In a few days, I’ll be heading to a workshop by Jim Croft at his home in Northern Idaho. Since the workshop involves making a book (and tools, and paper) from scratch, as well as no internet or cellphone for two weeks, I tend to get one of two responses from the people I tell about it. It’s either, “Are you out of your mind?!” or “That sounds AMAZING!”
Personally, I’m pretty excited.
However! Since I am headed to the workshop, and since I haven’t really finished a book in the last week or two (I have about four in various stages of completion), I will not be posting for a while… and I have nothing much to talk about now. So here is a less formal version of an article I wrote for the Guild of Bookworkers newsletter on a workshop I took this Spring.
I may have mentioned before that as a library and archives conservation student, I receive a certain amount of grant money specifically to facilitate travel and workshop expenses to gain information that is pertinent to my specialty but hard to receive within the program. It makes sense that students should be able to learn from different people specializing in the host of different sub-specialties within book conservation.
Thanks to the available funding, a few weeks ago I traveled to DC to attend a Guild of Book Workers (GBW) workshop at the Folger Shakespeare Library on calendar books, led by Pamela Spitzmueller. Chief conservator at Harvard Libraries until her retirement, Ms. Spitzmueller is also a book artist.
GBW tends to have great workshops, and this one did not disappoint. Ms. Spitzmueller started with a short lecture on the histories of the books we were going to make, illustrated with pictures she had taken in her travels. They were mostly Scandinavian in origin and would have functioned as almanacs or calendars that could be re-used yearly. These were more economical for medieval professionals — the medieval ‘middle class.’
After a brief discussion of the books, we got down to work in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s beautiful conservation lab. I have to admit, working in the lab was really a delight. I especially appreciated its abundant natural lighting!
The first book we made was a type an accordion book where the folds continue to form a cover that wraps around the book. It opens like an ordinary book, except that every two-page spread has a fold-out. Traditionally, each half of the fold-out would have held the days of the month, along with folk-art illustrations of the monthly labors, special holidats, etc. These were originally made of parchment and decorated with watercolors; we, of course, simply used paper. Although simple, the design could lend itself to all sorts of artist books, with a contrast between larger and smaller images, for instance. The whole thing folds up quite small and is very portable.
The second style we made comprised of six wooden tablets, all roughly the same size and shape, strung together with string. These were traditionally made of wood, ivory, or bone, carved and inked with a list of days and runes, and held together with leather thongs — you can see a great example in the Schoyen collection here.
We made two of these, sanding down the edges and corners of the tablets so that they were smooth and rounded, and drilling holes for the string. We also cut lines along the bottom to help keep the pages in order:
Then it was time to decorate the tablets. We had the option of using pens — one participant used color pencils — or a wood burning tool. I rather fell in love with the wood burning tool — it was really immensely satisfying to use — but I mostly just ended up marking the days of the months, with minimal decoration. (I am planning on checking if there is a similar tool at the Conservation Center that I may use to continue decorating!)
The last type of book we made was a ‘vade mecum’ — loosely translated as ‘take me along.’ Typically made of parchment, these had pages that folded and were bound at one end. In some ways they were quite similar to girdle books, in that they were typically fastened at the belt with a tassel. More information on these can be found here; multiple images are available here; and a rather lovely one currently residing in the Houghton Library at Harvard can be accessed here.
These books were relatively simple to make; first, the pages were cut and folded, and then threaded together via two punched holes at the top of the pile of pages. This results in a book which folds to a size smaller than the actual size of its pages, allowing room for drawings of the labors of the month, symbols for special days, computational tables, and the like.
One of the exciting things involved (well, exciting for this conservation student — roughly as exciting as paint drying for anyone else) was the discovery of the dental hole punch for punching the holes in these pages. It makes the loveliest small holes and has secured a place on my wish list!
In all, the workshop was informative and fun, offering a chance to not only learn some new book structures but also try out new techniques and tools in addition to meeting other members of the book community. At the end of the two days, we all left with new skills and ideas — at least, I definitely did!